One more time. Personality tests are useless. So, why do so many
companies still use them? So, the other day I got an email from a former student of mine. Did you know I was a full-time
business school professor? I don’t talk about that often. “Dear, Dr. Burkus…” Did you know I have a doctorate? I don’t talk about that much either. “Dear, Dr. Burkus, thanks
so much for your advice “years ago in class on
acing the job interview. “I’m now at the final stages
of the interview process “with my dream company “and I need to take a personality test. “Do you have any advice for
acing the personality test “and getting the right personality
type to get the offer?” I do actually have some advice about this. My biggest piece of advice: Ditch the company. You don’t want to work there anyway. I know it’s your dream job,
but it’s gonna be a nightmare. See we use personality tests a lot. Okay, most of them we
use for harmless fun, we take it with our friends
to figure what Hogwarts house we’re supposed to be in
and that sort of thing but companies use personality
tests prolifically. Somewhere close to 2.5
million people a year take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The most popular and also one of the worst personality tests out there. 89 of the Fortune 100 companies subject their people to some
form of personality testing at some point in their career. And we use them for a
couple different reasons. Yeah, we use them often in
hiring because we think that we should have certain personality
types for certain jobs. Or we think that we need a diversity of personality types on our team. We use them for team building activities or conflict resolution cause
we think that if we could just understand the differences
in personality between people then we would end up getting along better or working together as a team. And both of those assumptions
are, well, they’re wrong. Personality tests, most
personality tests anyway, the kinds that put you in a certain “personality
type” are useless. They’re completely meaningless, they’re of dubious origin,
dubious methodology, and yet we still use
them time and time again. Like I said, most personality
tests are of dubious origin. Consider one of the
more popular personality tests in the work place is the DiSC. D-i-S-C personality assessment. Although, to be fair to the people at DiSC they would say they are
a behavioral assessment. And the idea of the DiSC test, started with a gentleman
named William Marston. William Marston also
did two other things– he was the one that did a lot
of the early research in the, now discredited, polygraph test industry. And he gave us Wonder Woman. The Wonder Woman thing
is actually pretty cool, we won’t hold that one
against him, for sure. But he theorized that there were basically four different types of people. Four different ways that people respond in certain situations and then disciples of
Marston’s actually took that and developed it into a test to put you into one of
these four categories. Most of this happened
almost 100 years ago. 100 years ago, think about the state
of science as a whole, medical science, and
especially personality science, 100 years ago. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
for example, the MBTI, we like to think of this
as a super scientific one because the people that market it, do a great job making it look that way. But the MBTI started with two
women, a mom and a daughter, who basically loved gossiping
about their neighbors and other socialites. They had read Carl Jung and
Carl Jung’s ideas that there were three basic personality types, and for some reason they added a fourth, and started labeling
everybody around them. Eventually, they developed
a “test” that they could ask people to put them into
these different categories based on these different dimensions. But again, we are talking about
two untrained psychologists who were devotees of Carl
Jung, over 100 years ago. 100 years ago, when we
thought that giving lobotomies to angry or depressed housewives was a suitable cure for anything. One more test that is
gaining in popularity and starting to make
inroads into the workplace is the Enneagram assessment. The Enneagram of Personality
it’s often called. Now if you thought that DiSC or the MBTI had dubious origins; this test is fantastic. The Enneagram sorts
people into nine different personality types and those
nine personality types, well, those were basically theorized from a South American occultist
who liked to get into hallucinogenic trances by
taking Mescaline and Ayahuasca. You think I’m making this up but I’m not. And one day believed that
the Archangel Metatron told him that there were nine
different personality types. He mapped those nine different
personality types along this ancient symbol and, boom,
the Enneagram was born. Later, devotees, I don’t know
if they did Mescaline or not, would develop a test
that would sort people into these nine categories. But I think we get the point. Most of these tests are of
incredible dubious origins and yet we still buy into them. For reasons we’ll talk about in a second. First, let’s talk about how
dubious the methodologies behind these tests are. So while most of these
tests have dubious origins, their methodologies are even more dubious. Most of these tests, the ones
that sort you into different personality types, all start the same way. They start with a theory of how many different
personality types there are. In the case of the DiSC, it was four based on four behaviors. In the case of the Myers
Briggs, the MBTI, it’s 16 based on one of two areas,
along four different dimensions. Jung only actually theorized
that there were three but for some reason they added a fourth. And in the case of the Enneagram, remember it was the Archangel Metatron that told us that there were nine. So you start with how many
different categories you want and then you dream up a bunch
of different questions that would help you sort out
whether or not somebody belongs in a certain category. We’re talking hundreds of questions. You write out all these questions, you start to give those questionnaires to lots of different people, and then you run a bunch of
statistical tests to figure out which questions actually did sort people into those categories and
which ones we can illuminate ’cause they don’t add any
additional sorting ability. You run all these
different statistical tests and you arrive at a much smaller test. In the case of the Myers
Briggs, for example, it’s 93 questions. The end result is that
now you can take that test and you can find out that you
are such-and-such personality. Based on basically the scientific
rigor of a Buzzfeed quiz about which “Saved by the
Bell” character you are. The science of personality
doesn’t actually work that way. Legitimate personality
researchers will tell you that there are no personality types, there are only personality dimensions. And every personality
assessment that they developed is designed to show where
you exist along a spectrum. Now the most well-researched and most rigorous personality assessment is what we often refer to as the Big Five. Five different personality dimensions that most people exist
somewhere in a continuum. So instead of just one
different personality type, you actually have five different ones: Openness to experience,
Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. And in the end what you
arrive at is a score, actually five scores, that show where your
unique personality sits along these continuums. Now we should specify here
that since they came out a lot of these tests
have added a little bit to their phrasing to try and
look a little bit more like the Big Five. So the DiSC will mention
that it’s a preference which of these that you are, the MBTI will actually
give you the results where you exist on the spectrum
of four different options. But that’s in later pages of the report. The very first thing
you will see is still: Which of the sixteen categories you are? In the Enneagram added
this thing called wings where you’re now basically two
different personality types and later descriptions of it
will say that all of the nine are represented in everybody
but to different degrees. Which is, I mean, that’s
pretty much an admission that your sorting hat isn’t putting people in the right Hogwarts house. And in trying to make themselves look a little more scientific, that actually speaks
to why we believe them. At least one of the reasons
we believe them so much– we believe them because
they appear rigorous. The devotees of the DiSC
will talk about Marston, will talk about the psychological research that goes behind it, and
there is a little bit there but not enough to make career decisions or even run a team building event on. The creators of the MBTI will talk about their statistical reliability
which basically just means that the test actually sorts people into the right categories. They’ll never mention, of
course, that those categories are basically meaningless and not based on actual dimensions. And the Enneagram will
speak to the idea that it’s a 2,000-year-old wisdom tradition passed down from Sufi Mystics,
even though the Sufi’s aren’t 2,000-years-old. And the Christian Desert Fathers, even though those Fathers wrote
about the Seven Deadly Sins, not the nine personality types. And none of those Fathers believed in an Archangel named Metatron. And there’s another reason beyond just the appearance
of scientific rigor or historical reliability,
that we believe these tests. Hang on. The reason we believe most of these tests is that when we read our results, our results read like a fortune cookie. You don’t have pile of
fortune cookies at your house? You’re missing out. I mean watch. (cookie crunching) Tolerant and flexible, quiet observers, until a problem appears, then act quickly to
find workable solutions. Is that the fortune cookie
or is that the description of ISTP from the Myers Briggs website? How about another one. (cookie crunching) Easy going, self-effacing type, receptive, reassuring, agreeable, and complacent. Fortune cookie or the
description of Type Nine from the Enneagram? I mean you get the point,
most of these are written like fortune cookies or like horoscopes, and it’s actually a well
researched phenomenon. It’s known often as the Barnum Effect, the idea is that you can
appear to be dialed in, to be really specific
predicting someones future, or predicting their personality type by giving them a written
or a verbal description that is actually so vague it could apply to just about everybody. That’s why one of my friends
and colleagues, Adam Grant, coined this term that: “most personality tests
are horoscopes for nerds.” I mean they’re literally about as valid but about as persuasive
as a fortune cookie. Why do we keep using them? Well, like I said we use them in hiring, based off this faulty idea
that maybe there are certain personality types that lend
themself to certain jobs. We use them in conflict resolution because we think that if people
can understand each others personality, maybe they
would get along better. And the truth is there’s
not a lot of research behind either of these uses in the workplace. Every attempt to take even the
most scientifically rigorous personality assessments. The Big Five, OCEAN, that
we talked about earlier, showed that there’s
basically no correlation between your personality type
and your performance at work. Now, a side note here,
there’s a little correlation between conscientiousness
and your performance at work but it’s really not
significant enough to be making hiring decisions based off. And there’s also not a lot
of research that suggests that understanding each
others personality types will lead to less conflict in the workplace. I mean face it, most of
the conflict on your team or in your entire organization
is not the result of different personality dimensions. It’s the result of really
vague descriptions of roles and responsibilities,
diminished resources, so every department is having
to fight for resources, really poor communication around
timelines and expectations, and a myriad of other systematic reasons that put people into conflict. And just finding out that
someone is a Sagittarius, that’s not going to be all that helpful. So now you see when I’m
talking to my student, why I’m advising her to skip that company and move somewhere else. I mean yes, I get it,
that it is her dream job but the truth is, if this
organization thinks that they’re gonna pick the right candidate
based on a personality type or they think that they’re
going to manage her career based on where she fits
on some bogus test. Well that dream jobs gonna
turn into a nightmare. Why? Because that company is dreaming.


    If you like this episode and want to go deeper, check out our free course "3 DAYS TO A MORE MOTIVATED AND ALIGNED TEAM at

  2. Ha! Love it David! (Or should I say "Dr. Burkus"?!) Peoples' job prospects, bonuses, hopes, dreams and aspirations are built on these. (But then, I'm an INFJ Scorpio, so I would say that, wouldn't I?) Best wishes, H

  3. Yes, these inventories can be misused, overused and poorly administered. You have painted with a broad brush here, David. Not all are useless. They should never be used to make hiring decisions. Yes, there is an enormous amount of crud in "personality testing."

  4. I like to learn and laugh at the same time. Thanks for this! … Curious what you think of strengths assessments. I have frequently recommended Marcus Buckingham's StandOut 2.0 assessment and think it's helpful. … Also, I think one of the reasons for team conflict is people don't have the self-awareness to recognize and work on what triggers them. Thanks again Dr. B.!

  5. Great job looking out for the people and educating us David! What are your thoughts on Robert Townsend’s work Further Up The Organization? If you have read it. If not, no prob. Thanks in advance.

  6. Thanks for sharing. I once worked with a group who used the MBTI. I walked into the office and on the wall names with their "types" were proudly posted for all to see! And, I would hear comments like, "Oh, you're a INTJ … that explains it!" At best the more researched and valid/reliable assessments looking at "type" (not personality) may provide some clues regarding how team members relate with each other but the problem I've seen is that assessments are viewed as "gospel" and to when they "discover the hammer the whole world becomes a nail" (to paraphrase Maslow). Additional problems (in my opinion) center on some of these "measures" being available for free on some websites so they can be used by untrained individuals. The good news is that as far as I know none of those mentioned are EEOC approved for selection (at least I hope they are not!). Thanks again.

  7. Fingerprints, Breathylisers, Speed radar, Freud, Atkin's, even DNA has been shown to be build on false assertions, seems we as a society need a psychological crutch to give us context, where in fact none exists, much to our own detriment

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